St George’s surgeons give warning as three children need surgery after swallowing magnetic balls
Paediatric surgeons at St George’s Hospital are urging parents to be aware of the dangers of small magnetic balls after operating on three children who had ingested them.
Between Friday 13 and Saturday 14 November, St George’s paediatric surgery team operated on three children who had magnetic balls lodged in their digestive systems.
A fourth child, who had ingested 13 balls, was also seen by the team but discharged after the magnets passed through their system without complications.
Shabnam Parkar, Consultant Paediatric Surgeon at St George’s, said: “We’ve seen four cases in the last week alone and I’m concerned we will see more unless parents are alerted of how dangerous these magnetic balls can be.
“While all four children are thankfully recovering well, these magnets can cause serious and life-threatening damage, particularly if more than one is swallowed.
“If the magnets separate from each other and are in different sections of the bowel, they are strong enough to magnetise together and perforate the bowel tissue trapped between them.”
Two of the children who underwent surgery also had to have their appendix removed, as the balls had become stuck nearby it.
Two-year-old Millie needed a laparoscopy procedure to remove 14 magnetic balls which had become lodged at the start of her large bowel.
Millie’s father, Lee Spooner, was unaware of what his daughter had swallowed until she started complaining of a tummy ache.
Lee, who lives in Whitehill, Hampshire, said: “My wife caught Millie with the magnets in her mouth, but we had no idea she’d swallowed some of them until she started crying and pointing at her tummy four days later.
“When we realised what she might have done, we took her to our local hospital where they used a metal detector to try to confirm it, but it didn’t detect anything.
“Given our suspicions, they gave Millie an X-ray and that’s when we discovered fourteen magnetic balls were stuck inside her bowel.
“They were bought for my older child who liked using them to make bracelets and rings, but I never imagined something like this would happen.
“My message to all parents would be please do not buy them and if you have them, throw them away. I wouldn’t want any family to experience what we have been through.”
To warn other families, Lee shared what had happened to Millie on his Facebook page. He received a message back from Abigail Lynch, the mother of seven-year-old Lilly who underwent surgery at George’s after ingesting 32 magnets in 2017.
Two years on, Abigail also wants to speak out to warn other parents of the dangers posed by magnetic balls, which had been bought online as a Christmas present for her older child.
Abigail, from Haslemere, Surrey, said: “Lilly had to have a major operation to stitch up three holes in her bowel where the magnetic balls had joined together and perforated the tissue.
“She’d swallowed them at different times, but I had no idea how serious this was until I saw what looked like tiny bracelets inside her on the X-ray.
“It took a long time for Lilly to recover and I think she’s still suffering from the effects of it. She struggles to go to the toilet and her doctor suspects it’s because of a build-up of scar tissue, which she may need further surgery to remove.”
Shabnam Parkar added: “We know these are the not the first cases of children swallowing magnetic balls, and despite previous warnings by other Trusts across the country, children’s lives are continuing to be put at risk.
“We’ve had 33 children admitted onto our surgical ward at St George’s after ingesting magnets from toys over the last eight years, and the majority of these children required operations to remove them.
“They can be extremely dangerous and with Christmas only round the corner, I’d urge anyone to think twice before buying them as gifts.”
Despite Covid-19, St George’s is continuing to provide emergency, urgent and planned operations for children at the Trust.
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